Can 20 minutes a day of storytelling help parents boost their kids' language skills?

14 November 2018

A new study announced today by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) will find out if an early language teaching programme which is delivered at home for 20 minutes each day can improve young people's language and literary skills. 

The Parents and Children Together (PACT) programme, was developed as part of a Nuffield-funded project by researchers now at the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford. The programme aims to provide parents with skills, strategies and resources to support their children's language development at home.

As part of their Nuffield-funded study, the project team evaluated the effects of the PACT programme using a randomised controlled trial with 208 children and their families. Children were randomly allocated to receive either the language programme or an active treatment control programme targeting motor skills and self-care. The trial found that children who took part in the programme made saw a greater improvement in their language skills than those who did not.

Children receiving the language programme made significantly larger gains in language and narrative skills than children receiving the motor skills programme at immediate post-test. Effects on language were maintained 6 months later, but there was no evidence that the movement programme improved motor skills. The size of gains in language skills from the PACT programme were modest, but in the range which are considered to be educationally significant. 

Families of pre-school children (aged 3 years) in 45 nurseries will take part in the new EEF trial of the PACT programme. At the beginning of the programme, parents will go to a two-hour session where they'll be supported to use the programme materials. Over 30 weeks, they'll spend 20 minutes every day delivering the programme to their children. Activities include interactive book reading, talking about new words, and storytelling skills. BookTrust, a national literacy charity, has worked with the developers to produce the programme materials. 

An independent team from the University of Durham will evaluate the PACT trial to find out what impact the programme has on children's language skills, and how parents and children respond to the programme.